The OTR is heading off to Easter Island later this week (I’ll have more about it on Thursday), but I thought I’d pass along what I consider to be the most important tip about booking a trip using frequent flyer miles (especially in business or first):
You have to keep checking. Over. And. Over. I know. That’s annoying. But having booked a decent number of premium class trips using miles, I’ve seen it in nearly every instance: the seats I wanted weren’t available when I first wanted to book the trip, but then they open up. In the case of our trip on Thursday, they opened up this morning. Why did I know that? Because I check three times a day. For me, getting something like $10,000 worth of airline tickets for free is worth 10 minutes of my time each day. If it’s not, Gary Leff at View from the Wing offers a great service for about $150 where he’ll do all this for you. And he knows this better than anyone (OK, he and Lucky at One Mile at a Time know this stuff better than anyone). But you can also do it yourself. Airlines change award inventory throughout the day, so if you really want that seat, you have to keep checking.
Along those lines: I recommend booking the tickets in coach if it’s available and premium awards are not. In most (all?) cases you can move up to business class if the seats become available without incurring a change fee. I can’t think of a time where I’ve booked a couple of months out without eventually being able to move into a premium seat as it got closer to the travel date. Seats open up all the time.
Also, rather than calling and spending a year on the phone with the agent for an international reward ticket (checking all of those combinations – and finding a helpful agent – could take hours): For a OneWorld award, sign up for Qantas’ frequent flyer program (it’s free if you live in the U.S.). It will give you access to their online reward booking system which shows OneWorld inventory. For Star, sign up for ANA’s frequent flyer program for access to their alliance’s inventory. I’ve found SkyTeam to be more hit or miss (Northwest’s site has generally been pretty good, but not perfect – if someone has a better suggestion let me know).
I’ll more details on Thursday, but remember: don’t give up on that free ticket yet. Keep checking. And checking.